Toad Talks: Is JD Sports Dirt Bike Ad Campaign Irresponsible?

A recent social media campaign from the ‘fashion’ brand JD Sports looks like it’s glorifying illegal motorcycle use - here’s what the National Police Cheif’s Council and others think about it

Toad Talks: Is JD Sports Dirt Bike Ad Campaign Irresponsible?

Over the weekend I began being served adverts on social media from the high-street sports shop JD Sports. I don’t shop in JD or follow the retailer on social media, so this particular set of ads landing on my newsfeed was a little strange.

The pictures accompanying the social media posts though provided a potential reason for that, as most of the pictures either showed people sitting astride off-road motorcycles, or riding them and doing stunts, all while they were wearing the latest Nike Air Max that JD is trying to flog.

The background on the images and the video looks to be a piece of the public road. An on-screen disclaimer advising it was a closed road with professional riders is shown, but it’s been framed in such a way that it doesn’t look like it. I’m guessing shooting the clips at a proper off-road facility wouldn’t have been quite so ‘street’, innit.

The comments section was, unsurprisingly, littered with motorcyclists taking a fairly dim view of the subject matter, and there were two distinct camps. On the one side, people were questioning why a retailer would use pictures showing people wearing sub-optimal safety equipment, and therefore in a way condoning the behaviour. On the other, some people lived in areas where motorcycle riding of this type was a common occurrence, and they couldn’t believe JD was glorifying what is, for many people, a damaging form of anti-social behaviour.

We have our own opinions on the matter, a combination of the two mentioned above, but we wanted to see what some of the more relevant people in the sector had to say.


The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) wanted to highlight that retailers have a “responsibility” to not “encourage anti-social behaviour or criminality,” which to most observers this set of adverts seems to do. 

A spokesperson for the NPCC said:

"Retailers have a responsibility to ensure they are not selling their products in a way which could encourage anti-social behaviour or criminality, and we encourage all users of quadbikes and motorbikes to use them responsibly.

"We know that anti-social behaviour has the power to wreck lives and we ask the public to continue to report incidents to us. Police forces use all local intelligence provided to prioritise their neighbourhood policing response and respond to incidents, and where it is not a matter for the police, we will work with local authorities and other agencies to effectively combat ASB and empower victims and communities."

We also wanted to get a specialist in the field of motorcycle protective equipment to have a look at them and to get their take. Paul Varnsverry has over forty years of experience in the motorcycle PPE sector and now works for riders to try and legislate for clear ratings on motorcycle kits and clothing, and that doesn’t mean he wants to force you to wear fully approved kit on every ride. He simply wants to ensure that if you buy a piece of clothing labelled as motorcycle clothing, you are getting exactly what you pay for. He said.

“From what I’ve seen of the comments made by motorcyclists in response to JD Sports’ ad campaign, indignation has been expressed at how it may be glorifying bike thieves, which made me question if “JD” might in this instance be an acronym for Juvenile Delinquents!

“I doubt those responsible for creating the campaign, or those who signed off on it, were even aware of, still less gave any thought to the broader picture. They are simply out to sell products and the campaign has an objective and a target audience.

“Whilst I always recommend that motorcyclists purchase footwear (and garments, gloves and impact protection components) that has been independently tested and certified, as has been required by law since 21 April 2018, and the footwear advertised by JD Sports could not pass the requirements of the motorcyclists’ footwear standard; the fact is that, aside from a [approved motorcycle] helmet, motorcyclists are free to wear whatever clothing they wish.

“I trust the condemnation of the JD Sports campaign voiced by certain quarters of the industry will be channelled into a concerted and ongoing effort to make motorcyclists aware of the standards for their riding kit and to encourage them to wear it. It’s something I’ve been advocating and pushing for, behind the scenes, but beyond platitudes, there has been no tangible effort from motorcycling and government bodies to make information available to riders. It is only the efforts of several journalists, including yourself, that have highlighted the matter.”

If anything the matter highlights that unless guidelines are issued to brands on the ways they can responsibly market their products, situations such as this will continue to happen. Brands have a right to think up new and innovative ways to sell their goods, the motorcycle industry, in the past, was at the forefront of creating funny, exciting, and sometimes borderline dangerous adverts for bikes and more. But things have come a long way since the 80s and the world is a very different place.

We also reached out to the JD Sports Press office for a comment on the adverts, and they came back with a fairly predictable, but acceptable response. They said.

“Our campaign was filmed with professionally trained riders on roads closed to the public during filming, or indoors. This followed our health and safety team conducting a rigorous risk assessment that was shared with the riders, to ensure maximum safety. We take health and safety very seriously across all aspects of our business.”

The spokesperson also confirmed that all filming took place on closed roads or in buildings closed to the public, that proper health and safety procedures had been followed, and a medical team was on hand.